Overview of the Peconic Estuary
Just 80 miles east of the hustle and bustle that is New York City lays the unparalleled beauty and tranquility of Long Island’s East End and the Peconic Estuary. Dubbed one of the "Last Great Places" in the western hemisphere, the Peconic Estuary is situated between the north and south forks of Long Island. The watershed begins at Brookhaven National Lab with the headwaters of the Peconic River, spans the several bays from Flanders to Gardiners, and ends in Block Island Sound between Plum Island and Montauk Point. More than 125,000 land acres and 158,000 surface water acres are included in the Peconic Study Area.
Estuaries are the most productive ecosystems on earth, containing more life per square inch than the lushest rainforest canopy. The Peconic Estuary lives up to this high standard—animal and plant life abound. One hundred eleven rare species reside within the Peconic watershed. Indeed, the combination of undisturbed habitats and productive bays prompted The Nature Conservancy to call the Peconic Estuary one of the “Last Great Places in the Western Hemisphere.”Compared to other estuaries, the Peconic Estuary is relatively pristine. The health of the Peconic Estuary can be partially attributed to its rural surroundings. Nearly 25% of the land that falls within the watershed is classified as open space, and the year-round human population is just 100,000. However, as suburban sprawl expands further and further toward Montauk and Orient Points, human pressure on the Peconic Estuary continues to grow. This increased pressure and the accompanied land use changes have manifested themselves in several noticeable ways. In 1985, the water turned the color of coffee; Brown Tide swept in and devastated the local scallop industry. Excess nutrients fertilized the bay, leading to low oxygen levels and thus degrading the environment critical to plant and animal life. Pesticides and other toxics were detected through water quality sampling. Little by little, signs of increasing human encroachment were popping up. Thankfully, the citizens of the East End were not willing to sit by and watch; they joined hands to fight for clean water and healthy bays. Spearheaded by robust citizen involvement, the Peconic Estuary Program was formed to quell the decline in health of the estuary and to protect and restore the environmental quality of this tremendous natural resource.
What is the PEP?
In 1993, the Peconic Estuary became the 20th estuary in the nation to receive the designation as an “Estuary of National Significance” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As part of the National Estuary Program (NEP), the Peconics were charged with developing and implementing a watershed-based comprehensive management plan. A new alliance was necessary to carry out this colossal task, and the Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) was born. The PEP is an innovative partnership of local, state, and federal governments, citizen and environmental groups, businesses and industries, and academic institutions. After years of hard work, the PEP Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) was formally approved on November 15, 2001 by EPA Administrator Christine Whitman, with the concurrence of New York State Governor George Pataki. There are an ambitious 340 management tasks included in the CCMP; priority topics include Brown Tide, nutrients, habitat and living resources, pathogens, toxic pollutants, and critical lands protection.